The death on May 7, 2009 of American-Canadian poet Robin Blaser sent me to my office shelf where I keep books waiting to be read. For three years Blaser's collected essays had burned its presence into my eyes, but only now, six months after his death, have I actually found the time to read this important book.
The main components are, first, that there isn't one. That was what you felt
and this was what the 20th century tried to do to us. It took us away and
Marxism didn't help at all unfortunately with that problem. Marxism is quite
a different thing, but that's when we're already social and know how to move
and then Marxism can speak to you. Otherwise, you're fucked. You've not got
a cosmos with which: Where's God? Well you're sure not going to...even an old
Catholic like me isn't going to turn into THAT. And Spicer, I mean, Spicer's
view of the Catholic Church [laughing heartily] IS ONE KICK IN THE ASS
AFTER ANOTHER! HA! and I just loved it. And Duncan, ooooh Duncan. He
was an occultist in some part and the occult tradition was a fascinating one. We
all came to know of it. But the occult was a counter Christian, counter religious
tradition that was also a religious tradition, whatever a religion means, essentially
to be tied to a world at large. So all of us were busy working around it,
sometimes at quite a loss. ....It was simply a matter of finding language as the
way with which you could walk on a piece of earth....
In short, as Nelson suggests, for Blaser the search for a cosmology, an entire system of being, was a process rather than an end. As opposed to a lyric self-expression, Blaser approached poetry as a serial-like search—what in other essays he describes a revelation of the "real"—that in its intensity metaphorically "burns up" the poet, leaving a fire behind him.
Such communities tend to build a structure for men who wish to keep, hold
and record the passionate relation with the outside that the world, the
nation, need. This is the only place where such talk goes on.
Discourse, accordingly, is at the center of Blaser's poetics, even in this early essay, and most of the works in this volume resound with voices, often contrary voices that express a kind of explosion of ideas surrounding the subject at hand.
"All of you are hanging on my words. You all know me, and are aware
that I am unable to remain silent. I have not learnt to do so in seventy-
three years of my life. and I do not wish to learn it any more. At times,
to be silent is to lie. For silence can be interpreted as acquiescence. I
could not survive a divorce between my conscience and my world, always
Describing the General as a "symbol of death," Unamuno closes: "Unfortunately there are all too many cripples in Spain now. And soon, there will be even more of them, if God does not come to our aid. It pains me to think that General Millan Astray should dictate the patter of mass-pyschology. ...You will win, but you will not convince. You will win, because you possess more than enough brute force, but you will not convince, because to convince means to persuade. And in order to persuade you need what you lack—reason and right in the struggle."
Blaser's vision of the poet and his roles, accordingly, demand enormous undertakings, a knowledge of history, literature, language, politics, and much else that transforms the poet's role into a near Herculean act. It is, obviously, something that might indeed burn the poet up, actually destroy the living man. And in his beautiful testament to his beloved poet-friend Jack Spicer, we see precisely this self-immolation. Although the story has been told many times, it is worth repeating.
Just here, poetry may become a necessary function of the real, not
something added to it.
This living through poetry came, however, at a "remarkable cost." As Spicer once declared: "Neither baseball nor poetry are for amusement." Spicer's life, filled with contrariness and complexity, along with a deep dependence on alcohol, demanded a price.
I have already said his speech was a garble. He could manage a name
once in a while. Otherwise there were long-runs of nonsense sounds. No
words, no sentences. That afternoon, there was something like a dozen
friends around his bed, when it became clear that he wished to say
something to me. By some magic I can't explain, everyone left to let
it be between us. It was odd because I didn't ask them to leave and
Jack couldn't be understood. Their affection simply accounted for
something inexplicable. Jack struggled to tie his speech to words. I
leaned over and asked him to repeat a word at a time. I would, I said
discover the pattern. Suddenly, he wrenched his body up from the
pillow and said,
My vocabulary did this to me. Your love will let you go on.
The strain was so great that he shat into the plastic bag they'd wrapped
him in. He blushed and I saw the shock on his face. That funny apology
he always made for his body.
Along with Blaser's observations in short and long essays on Olson, Louis Dudek, George Bowering, Mary Butts, the artist Jess and others, The Fire encapsulates the immense demands he puts upon the role of poet, a figure, like Joan of Arc, destined to be burned up in the glory of his or her faith.
Los Angeles, November 1, 2009